Wow, where does one start other than I guess to express how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to experience so many parts of the world. I am a bit of loser, likely not a surprise for those who have met me, what might be a surprise (other than to Ger) is I love Reader's Digest (old form that is, the new form sucks to be honest) but I read it every month pretty much cover to cover (I get my ass kicked by Word Power every friggin month!). Years ago I read an article about the polar bears in Churchill, thus, Churchill made the list. While traveling earlier this year our friends introduced us to the Calgary Zoo travel programs (check them out) and we stumbled across a one-day trip to Churchill. Fly out of Calgary charter to Churchill (at an ugodly hour in the morning), spend the day, return home at a decent hour, same day. Brilliant! So for my 39th birthday that is what Ger got me (I had to wait till November because that is when the migration occurs). So our weekend started with an amazing birthday dinner for a dear friend, a few hours shut eye and off we went.
First, I wish we could fly charter every time, no hassle, show up, get on, fly. Civilized. 114 people on board of all walks of the life, people traveling through Canada, Canadians traveling Canada, and allot of Calgarians, young, old, in-between. Likely the most diverse group I have ever traveled with. We had two guides, Brian Keating joined this group, and I have to say his passion for wildlife is contagious. Being led and taught by people who have spent their life truly pursuing their passion is inspiring. Brian was our guide on our Tundra Bungy (38 per Buggy so we 3 machines) and he truly added to the experience.
Chruchill, MB is a place like no other I have ever been. Small doesn't capture it. Isolated doesn't even begin to describe it (and it has 2 regular scheduled flights a day from Winnipeg). No road in or out, everything comes by rail, plane or ship (except in the winter when the Hudson Bay is frozen). In the summer, it is a massive port because it can take ships larger than the Panama Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway. The last ship of the season was sitting in Harbor as we arrived, waiting to be loaded with grain before setting out on it voyage. Stranger yet is the important role Churchill played in the Cold War. It was a major Canadian Miltary Base, thus it's tiny, weeny airport can land any plane that flies (a UA flight in the 90's emergency landed there because Churchill could handle it). There are numerous abandoned structures (rocket launchers, military buildings) sitting empty, deteriorated and well, cold looking. These days it's fame is due to the polar bears who migrate through the region from mid October to the end of November as they wait for the ice to freeze on Hudson's Bay (and occasionally try to eat people http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/11/01/two_polar_bears_shot_after_attack_in_churchill_manitoba.html).
I apologize now for the random shit in this blog, my head is bursting after a day, I am Canadian after all and it was truly fantastic to spend a day soaking in some of my own heritage. Why does the Hudson Bay freeze? Due to the low salt content from all the fresh water that drains into it. Why does the ice come early? Due to the winds and circulation of the current which is counter clockwise. Yup, you can imagine this trip feed me full of useless knowledge which I loved! Population of Churchill, 1200-1400 in summer, 850 in the winter (can you imagine the stories these people can tell about their neighbors!) Tourism is 50% of the revenue (6 weeks a year!) and tv crews love Churchill (NBC, CBC, Animal Planet all there) because it is the only place in the world you can get this close to the bears. No where else in the world do they migrate.
Okay, shut up and on to the bears. The first couple sightings caused some alarm I won't lie. The bears were a long, long ways off in the distance. Keep in mind, I am spoilt, I have been to Africa so a safari means the animals are spitting distance away so I started to adjust my expectations. Not even half hour an hour later my original expectations were exceeded by a mile. We got close to 3-4 bears, really, really close. We saw somewhere between 19-21 bears in total (it's hard to differentiate if it is the same bear at a different spot even for the experts). Polar bears are amazing animals. Males are huge (up to 1500 pounds), females or sows are half that size. They have amazing sent of smell (can smell seals several feet below the ice and tourists in tundra buggies), are amazing swimmers, and are closer related to grizzlies. If a polar bear and a grizz mate their hybrid offspring is fertile, proving their genetic closeness.
As you can discern from my rambling I learned allot, loved every minute of it. If you can, and you are Canadian, go. It is amazing to see Hudson's Bay, period. But for those of us that grew up around brown bears and maybe even grizzlies, go see these unique beasts. Hell I may even add Grizzly Safari to my ever growing list because I am fairly confident I know squat about them now compared to the Polar Bear. The problem with crossing shit of the list, is every time I go somewhere I add at least 3-5 more places I would like to go.
The trip home was awesome, free wine (and big solo cup style glasses). Half decent food and a plane full of people who were in awe of what they saw. All in all a great birthday present, well worth the wait.
Until next time,
- Churchill has a hospital with 25 beds, woman in Nunavut aren't supposed to give birth there (hard to get to them in case of trouble) so they travel to Churchill, quasi embassy situation, if born in Churchill you still get a Nunavut birth certificate.
- there is still military close, we saw a fighter jet practicing (that can't be cheap to take that bird up and play liKe Mavrick)
- Female polar bear reproduction or cycling is induced not regular like other mammals. If she has offspring she won't cycle. Which is why the males try to kill the young, so they can "induce" her.
- Penguins and polar bears do NOT exist together, anywhere.
- Polar bears live in Canada, Greenland, Denmark, Norway and Russia.
- Males live to there early 20's, Females 30's - mainly because males fight with each other, sustain injuries, and die (females are smarter!).